Advent Animates Activism
“Everything is broken,” Bob Dylan lamented with timeless insight. And who wouldn’t agree? Both the testimony of truth and of tears tell you, indeed daily, that everythinlg is broken. But there are also days when things feel more broken than usual, when the world appears more dysfunctional, more deranged, more disfigured by evil than it’s “supposed” to be.
There are days when you’re outraged at a video of a black young man cut down by a cop, riddled by nearly as many bullets as the number of years he lived; when you’re horrified by reports of a carefully coordinated terrorist attack in a city like yours, leaving scores dead and millions terrified; when you’re aching for refugees made desperate by atrocities untold; when you’re bewildered by your traumatized numbness toward the breaking news of yet another mass shooting; when you’re disheartened by the poverty in your own neighborhood or by the indifference to division or resistance to reconciliation in your own church; when you’re just tired, broken by the brokenness, weary in the fight for justice and shalom.
In these more broken days, where do you find strength to persevere in the pursuit of justice?
“I Still Have a Dream”
Towards the end of his renowned “Christmas Sermon on Peace” (1967), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. invites his listeners to recall that “sweltering August afternoon” four years earlier when he “tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had.” That vision was hardly realized overnight. In fact, it was and continues to be assaulted by setbacks. “Not long after talking about that dream, I started seeing it turn into a nightmare,” King acknowledges in reference to the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which took the lives of four young girls, the escalating conflict in Vietnam, and the enduring problem of poverty in the community.
Four times we hear the weary refrain, “I saw that dream turn into a nightmare.” And just when you get to wondering if King might start wavering in the fight, or maybe abandon it altogether — discouraged and broken by those more broken days — he rises up with characteristic realism, optimism, and prophetic verve. He declares with conviction, “Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying, I still have a dream.”
What then follows is a soul-stirring proclamation of hope and recommitment:
“I still have a dream this morning that one day every Negro in this country, every colored person in the world, will be judged on the basis of the content of his character rather than the color of his skin, and every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. I still have a dream that one day the idle industries of Appalachia will be revitalized, and the empty stomachs of Mississippi will be filled…I still have a dream today that one day justice will roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream…
I still have a dream today that one day war will come to an end, that men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, that nations will no longer rise up against nations, neither will they study war any more. I still have a dream today that one day the lamb and the lion will lie down together and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid. I still have a dream today that one day every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill will be made low, the rough places will be made smooth and the crooked places straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
With resurgent energy, Dr. King doubles-down on the dream. He takes his parched heart — and ours together with his — to the Old Testament prophets’ well of refreshment and the great promises of the New Creation (Isa. 2:4; 11:6; 40:4; 65:25; Amos 5:24; Mic. 4:3; cf. Luke 3:4-6). The weariness of “today” is reinvigorated by a vision of “one day.” “Still” is fueled by “will.” Present perseverance is grounded in a firm, future hope, what Dr. King describes earlier in the sermon as the “eternal reminder of the fact that the truth-crushed earth will rise again.”
This is the power of Advent.
Advent Animates Activism
Where do you find strength to persevere in the pursuit of justice and shalom? In the confidence that Christ is coming — is Second Advent-ing — to consummate his Kingdom. That’s the answer Dr. King’s example lays before us. Advent means violence, oppression, injustice, and death itself have an expiration date. Advent means the new heavens and new earth have a guaranteed on-time arrival. Advent means a day is coming when the eschatological Dream will finally swallow the Nightmare.
Therefore, Advent means I can labor energetically for justice of all kinds — racial, economic, gender, criminal — with the assurance that my labor is never in vain. Advent means I can seek shalom, giving foretastes and previews of the perfected kingdom, freed from the exhaustion (“it’s all on me”) and jadedness (“it’s never going to happen”) that too often cripple activists and advocates alike. Advent means I can hang in there in broken places, even on the darkest of days, because I know the sun will rise again. Indeed, Advent hope animates kingdom activism.
Do you know one day the refugee in Christ will have an eternal home? Do you know one day the myth of the inherent criminality of blacks will be cosmically exposed as a lie? Do you know one day glocks will become garden tools, that the poor will be exalted, that all things crooked will be made straight, that justice will roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream? Do you know the night is nearly over and the day is almost here?
Then rise up, brothers and sisters, with Advent hope. Dare to put your hand to the plow again. Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly in these more broken days. And set your hearts upon that Unbroken Day, fully assured that — in Dr. King’s closing words — “it will be a glorious day, the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy.”
Jesus is coming back. Will you still dream?